Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The environmental case for fracking

24 comments:

PBM said...

I don't know that your title is apt for an article from the American Enterprise Institute. I would respect it more from an environmental group or just a group that even pretends to care even somewhat about the environment.

PBM said...

And on your link from the other fracking post, I don't buy the American Petroleum Institute's claims that fracking does not effect drinking water when the NYTimes article I put up highlighted an internal study by the same group that says differently:
"A confidential industry study from 1990, conducted for the American Petroleum Institute, concluded that 'using conservative assumptions,' radium in drilling wastewater dumped off the Louisiana coast posed 'potentially significant risks' of cancer for people who eat fish from those waters regularly."

TJE said...

AEI's Steven Hayward is a conservative environmentalist.

TJE said...

The question posed by article is important: Are environmental purists cutting off their nose to spite their face by blocking safe fracking when that will mean more burning of coal?

PBM said...

The article connected to the link is by John Entine.

PBM said...

I see the argument, but my main point with all of these fracking posts is that we are just beginning to understand the dangers of fracking. Since we are beginning to understand them, we can and should compare them to other methods of fossil fuel extraction, but that doesn't mean we should completely ignore what fracking does just because it might be the lesser of two evils.

TJE said...

We agree, I think. I would put emphasis on making fracking as clean and safe as possible.

Patrick_Landers said...

I certainly hope fracking can be made clean and safe, and that businesses decide to follow those methods (which have not been adequately demonstrated to even exist at this time). Where I live, there is no political chance of stopping this activity in the short-term. New York bans it, while our new governor-Corbett- is so blinded by his campaign contributions from the energy companies that he's refusing to consider implementing a simple excise tax that would have NO significant impact on fracking’s economic “benefits” for Pennsylvania (due to the market structure), but would raise significant revenue to fund programs like additional environmental protections or health insurance for thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians (which Corbett has proposed eliminating).
That is, unless the recent environmental incidents (considered minor and isolated at this point...comforting) that already are occurring become more widespread. After all, it's my family's drinking water that will become poisoned- just like what has already happened to numerous families across the state.
But at least worldwide and domestic natural gas prices will fall by a few cents… Who cares if portions of the country become unlivable without importing water?

TJE said...

Evidence?

PBM said...

Professor, have you read the NYTimes article, or seen 'Gasland'? I know one is seen as a liberal activist paper and the other as a liberal activist movie, but they are still worth consideration. There is a plethora of people who have reported having very similar health problems in the year or two after fracking has begun in there area. In addition, there are innumerable reports of tainted water sources, that can be lit on fire or can contribute to the aforementioned health problems. What do you suppose is causing these problems if not fracking? It seems a little too coincidental to me that fracking is popping up, then water is getting tainted (sometimes with diesel fuel; see earlier post) and surrounding citizens getting sick all within a year or two, without some connection.

Patrick_Landers said...

Multiple households within an hour of where I live have seen their wells rendered unusable, and there has been repeated local news coverage of multiple households that can set their water on fire. Unless multiple households and mutliple news stations are engaged in a vast conspiracy, I'm confident that there have been small-scale effects of fracking because I've seen people light their water on fire. That's not supposed to happen, right?
The next question is what happens when it's not a well that's poisoned, but when it's a tributary stream right next to their drilling that feeds into Fishing Creek (the water source for the thousands who use my town's water system, including my house), which in turn feeds into the Susquehanna river
basin which is the water source for millions. Or the Deleware river- which is the water source for More than 15 million people, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia. Here's what a simple google search acquired from legitimate news sources about problems in Pennsylvania- many of these articles cite government and independent studies which have found repeated water contamination, including large-scale problems:
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11060/1128778-455.stm or http://www.environmentalleader.com/2011/03/01/report-frackings-radioactive-wastewater-discharged-into-drinking-water-supplies/
http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/09/02/fracking/index.html
http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/details-few-on-diesel-used-in-pa-fracking-1.1098916#axzz1FO6RIwRi
http://www.philly.com/philly/living/green/20110104_Is__fracking__poisoning_Pa__s_water_supply_.html

PBM said...

Also, this could be a bit of a conspiracy, but I will try to provide some actual evidence about it. Apparently, in one of the Bush administration's energy bill (details to come), Dick Cheney, after holding closed door meetings with big oil executives, inserted an amendment that exempted fracking chemicals from the clean water act (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kevin-grandia/how-cheneys-loophole-is-f_b_502924.html). Not only that, but this loophole made sure that natural gas companies wouldn't have to reveal the contents of their fracking fluids, which they prized for competitive edge.

Without disclosure, which at this point is law in only a handful of states, local and national environmental protection agencies cannot even look into what chemicals are being used, let alone whether those chemicals are harmful to humans and the environment. So, that explains why, even in the midst of widespread health complaints, there is no direct evidence of negative impact on human health, or at least there wasn't until this NYTimes article was released.

Now for another obstacle. The US's chemical regulations are extremely outdated and ineffective, covering very few of the chemicals that have come out in the past two decades. That means that even if governments can figure out what chemicals are in fracking fluids, they can't determine if they are harmful. So, basically our chemical regulations need a serious upgrade if we actually want our government to deal with future environmental problems.

Now, for the hopeful part. The EPA has recently announced that it will be doing a thorough investigation of fracking and its health effects. This is a good start that should have been initiated years ago. If only our chemical laws could be updated at the same time, then maybe we could get a thorough, scientific understanding of how this process affects the environment and human health.

Patrick_Landers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick_Landers said...

I'd encourage those interested to check out Pro-Publica's coverage of this issue. As always, they do extensive and in-depth coverage of the issue for long periods of time.
A summary of their key articles:
http://www.propublica.org/article/natural-gas-drilling-debate-heats-up-read-our-guide
Their full directory:
http://www.propublica.org/series/buried-secrets-gas-drillings-environmental-threat

Pro-publica is funded by individual donations and philanthropic groups like the Sandler Foundation. Since it's not funded by corporations, we must assume that it's reporting is baised against the benevolent energy companies. Throughout their history, they have shown a committment to the long-term interests and public health of the communities where they extract natural resources.

Patrick_Landers said...

Soory for my sassiness- the key point I wish to make is that we need to be careful when doing this. One tiny accident, even one that doesn't result from negligence, could poison the water of millions. The incentives businesses face don't take into account these huge potential negative externalities. I'd prefer if it wasn't being done on such a large scale near so many major water sources, but at the very least I'd want complete and total disclosure of every single thing these companies are doing, and what processes and chemicals they are using. We need additional funding to provide extensive oversight of these activities. (Of course, House Republicans budget cuts are predicated in cutting billions from the EPA, besides millions from food safety inspections. but that's just an incidental note). Right now, companies are not being open about what they are doing. That is completly unacceptable when considering the potential risk for their actions.
It's also important to understand the full ramifications of any water poisoning that might occur. Obviously we hope that people wouldn't die- because the chemicals that would get in the water supply are so toxic that we'd quickly discover it. However, the water would be rendered unsuable- which would be one of the most economically disastrous things imaginable. Businesses in the area would be rendered inoperable, and millions of homes would decline drastically in value. It's conceivable that millions of working and middle-class families in these areas might see their most important economic asset implode overnight. That is a worst-case scenario- and we hope it doesn't happen, and it's probably statistically unlikely to happen. But it could happen, and we need to do everything possible to prevent that. Ergo, there needs to be a far more intense evaluation of fracking activities, with businesses needing to engage in full disclosure.

Ryan Karerat said...

WHAT THE FRACK IS GOING ON HERE?!?!?






Yeah ok, I'll let myself out...

TJE said...

http://anga.us/learn-the-facts/the-truth-about-gasland?gclid=CNnjs7y5rqcCFeR65QodVxr8Cg


I hope we are distinguishing between legitimate concerns about wastewater treatment and outlandish claims about fracking causing firewater.

No response to Governor Rendell, hardly part of the vast right wing/corporate conspiracy?

TJE said...

http://www.greatenergychallengeblog.com/blog/2011/01/06/shale-gas-development-and-water-quality-best-practices-can-mitigate-risks-to-underground-aquifers-and-water-wells/

PBM said...

The America's Natural Gas Alliance (hardly an unbiased source) does not discuss the health problems documented in the film. Did they not notice the biggest part of the film, or have they just not worked out a BS response video full of blooming trees, happy families and a soothing female voice yet?

Also, the contaminated water didn't just show up in the form of "firewater," it also appeared in the form of brown water that smells like gas and caused horses to lose hair and people to have constant headaches.

Professor, have you seen "Gasland"?

PBM said...

On Ed Rendell, I'm just watched that now because I don't have sound on my computer at work. It sounds like he thinks fracking can work if it is well regulated, which may be true, but I don't see any Republicans jumping out in front to regulate an industry that contributes heavily to their campaigns. I'm not saying all fracking is bad, but it has clearly caused some pretty severe problems and needs to be heavily regulated, which is not the case right now. The industry, like all industries, is fighting against more regulation even when it is clearly needed. While it is good that they have begun to voluntarily disclose their fracking fluids, who can verify that they are telling the truth? Even worse, as I mentioned before, who actually knows whether the chemicals are harmful? The US EPA certainly doesn't, because it's database of chemicals and harm they can cause from the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 only contains 200 of the now 60,000 known chemicals on the market. I don't know exactly how many of these 60,000 are used in fracking, but I'm sure there are a lot in there that have not been tested for safety by the EPA. Just saying there needs to be some actual regulation here. Actual post on Chemical Safety is coming up.

TJE said...

Industry engineering experts are to be disregarded but film makers are scientific gospel?

Did you study the diagrams of how fracking actually works?

PBM said...

I did see that, I'm just checking if you've actually seen something that you are criticizing so heavily. I'm not saying you have to believe everything it says (because I definitely don't), just that you should see it before listening to and passing on critiques of it.

Patrick_Landers said...

My point, which I think is Peter's as well, is at the very least we should hold these companies to the highest standards of accountability due to the severity of the potential public health threat- which the industry notes can only be "mitigated" when they use "best practices," which they claim they do and yet there have been multiple incidents which the industry then accuses of being isolated, sloppy contracting incidents. Why do these incidents, actually related to improper practicies, keep on occuring if they are so committed to best practicies and safety? Companies say they are following best practicies and voluntarily on an individual basis release what information they want to. They activiely resist any attempts to ensure accountability- whether by government regulation or even simple requirements for the public release of critical information. That requirement of disclosure is minimally expensive. If they are doing best practicies, why wouldn't they want to prove that to us? Instead, they are making campaign contributions, financing apologist thinktanks, and engaging in media campaigns to prevent full disclosure or adequate government oversight. Peter and I are not insisting on anything onerous (though we might prefer something more onerous).
What are the arguments against disclosure? That's what I want to hear- a response specifically to our argument for disclosure.

TJE said...

My distinguished colleagues may disregard this link as the propaganda of greedy energy producers. But what do they think of the specific criticisms made of the NYT article? And the drilling video is cool.

http://www.energyindepth.org/2011/03/on-wastewater-and-the-new-york-times/